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Posts in Category: Bus Maintenance

Bus Bus Maintenance Community In the News

Old buses get new life 

| Thursday, April 24, 2014 12:00:00 AM

A 12-year-old bus with more than 400,000 miles might not sound like a dream come true. But for Ann Kay and Bill Jones, it represents just that.

The Minnetonka duo recently purchased a retired Metro Transit bus to use as a mobile computer lab that will be parked at the North Community YMCA and other Twin Cities locations, allowing students to engage in a unique learning initiative called The Rock ‘n’ Read Project. Using computer programs, students sing out loud to boost their reading skills.

“The bus is the key, because the bus is exciting,” Kay said as she and Jones recently took possession of the bus at the St. Paul property near I-94 and Snelling Avenue where Metro Transit stores some of its retired vehicles. “Plus we’re able to go right to the kids in their community.”

Kay and Jones said they were inspired to use a transit bus because of the large windows. Though it will be painted and stripped of its seats, they also believe the bus will remain a familiar sight in the community.

“They are highly recognizable even if they don’t have the big T on them,” Jones told the Star Tribune, which wrote about the purchase. “They know that is a city bus. We are going to marry the bus they see every day with the fun and reading success.”

The conversion from people mover to mobile learning site is just one example of how Metro Transit’s buses have been creatively reused after their regular in-service life.

While many retired buses are dismantled and sold for parts or acquired by private bus companies, others have been used as outbuildings, a petting zoo and gardens. Others have gone to smaller transit providers, some shipped as far as Africa.

D.J. Jones, of Hollandale, Minn.-based Jones Auto, recently brought one of the buses he purchased to Chicago to be used in the filming of Transformers 4. The bus was used in hundreds of takes over a month of shooting, he said. Though largely painted over in orange and green, Jones captured a photo with the "Circle T" still visible on the vehicle's roof.

While most of the buses Jones has purchased over the last decade have been scrapped, he has held onto this one to help celebrate the movie’s premiere this June.

“I'm taking my kids and we’re going to drive that bus to the movies when it comes out in the theaters,” he said.

The bus that Kay and Jones purchased last week was among 23 that were put up for online auction earlier this year.

Other buses from the auction will be converted into a mobile grocery store that will serve St. Paul's East Side and a roaming artist studio with space for youth to paint, draw and practice a number of other mediums.

Artist Mary Carroll is the organizer of the non-profit behind the so-called "Art Bus" and the organization behind it, ART ASAP (After School Arts Programming). ART ASAP is a partner of St. Paul Public Schools but the bus will be driven throughout the metro to reach underserved youth at multi-family housing complexes, youth centers and other areas where transportation can be a challenge.

Youth will be able to take eight week classes with mentors as early as July, concluding with an exhibit and a portfolio of work to call their own.

On the bus, most of the seats will be removed to make way for easels and other equipment. Solar panels will be installed on the roof to supply power. After the bus was sold to the organization, volunteers immediately set to decorating the outside, which Carroll said will be painted "very vividly."

“When you see it, you’ll know that it’s the Art Bus,” she said.

Based on regional and federal guidelines, the regular service life of a transit bus is 12 years. Metro Transit's buses are typically used for a year or two to provide service to the Minnesota State Fair and have more than 400,000 miles on their odometers by the time they are sold.

"Obviously, these buses have been running up and down the street for many, many years," said Rob Milleson, Director of Bus Maintenance. "Many of them are still operable but the cost of maintaining them for service doesn't make sense."

To prepare buses for auction, Metro Transit removes the fare box, radio, bike rack and equipment used to program the overhead signs. All advertisements and logos are also painted over to avoid potential confusion if the buses go back out on the road.

Kay, of Rock 'n' Read, said taking an old bus and giving it new life is a fitting start for her and Jones' fledgling program.

“This may seem like the end of the line, but it’s the start of the line for us,” she said.

    > Star Tribune: Old buses keep on truckin’ after leaving Metro Transit

    > Star Tribune: Bringing art to youth via bus

    > Lillie Suburban Newspapers: Food on a bus?

    > Business Journal: Wilder Foundation converting retired Metro Transit bus into mobile grocery store

    > BringMeTheNews: Converted bus to roll affordable groceries into food deserts

    > More maintenance, more miles


Bus Bus Maintenance

Nurturing a new generation of mechanics 

| Friday, April 18, 2014 11:40:00 AM

Mechanic-technician Kevin Hendrickson checks the heating and cooling system on a Metro Transit Bus.

Among Kevin Hendrickson’s classmates, buses weren’t exactly top of mind.

Instead, those enrolled with him in Hennepin Technical College’s Medium/Heavy Truck Technology program largely thought their careers would involve working on tractor-trailers, considered the “Cadillac of the road.”

When it came time to find an internship, though, Hendrickson went a different direction. He spent a year dividing his time between the classroom and working at Metro Transit’s bus maintenance department.

Hendrickson’s divergent path was inspired by the decades his father spent as a bus mechanic, as well as the prospect of working on some of the largest vehicles on the road. Metro Transit’s high-floor, 40-foot buses weigh more than 30,000 pounds and are more than 10 feet tall; 60-foot articulated buses weigh about 40,000 pounds.

“For me, the bigger it is the more fascinating it is,” said Hendrickson, who spent his internship doing everything from removing seats to replacing transmissions and brakes.

The decision to go a different direction paid off: in 2013, Hendrickson became the first Metro Transit intern to graduate from Hennepin Tech’s unique, two-year program and to be hired as a full-time mechanic-technician.

Today, Hendrickson works at East Metro Garage, inspecting and repairing heating and cooling systems. He joins more than 260 mechanic-technicians who are based at one of five Metro Transit service garages or the Overhaul Base in St. Paul, ensuring the fleet of more than 900 buses operates safely and reliably.

For Metro Transit, recruiting and training new mechanics like Hendrickson isn’t just a goal but a necessity. As older mechanics retire it has become increasingly urgent to recruit new mechanic-technicians who can take their place.

The partnership with Hennepin Tech began a few years ago as part of a larger effort to fulfill the need. Metro Transit is also approaching students at high schools and vocational schools and encouraging its own helpers and cleaners to take coursework that puts them on the path toward becoming a mechanic.

While the internship program won’t by itself come close to filling the ranks – just a few students can participate at a time – it is nonetheless a critical step towards addressing the need.

Jan Homan, Metro Transit’s deputy chief operating officer for bus operations, said stories like Hendrickson’s illustrate to young people that they can make a career of transit and make it more likely for them to get interested.

“We’re in the mix now,” Homan said. “We have young people who can advocate and let their peers know about the opportunities that exist.”

Homan’story is itself a testament to the type of career a mechanic can build at Metro Transit. Homan started as a bus cleaner in 1975 and now oversees the bus transportation and maintenance divisions.

Chuck Wurzinger, assistant director of bus maintenance, said the program is uniquely suited to Metro Transit’s needs because of the hands-on experience it provides.

In most programs, students spend 18 months in school but have little exposure to the work environment they’ll be entering. Mid-career mechanics often come over from the automotive, trucking or airline industries and have to do some on-the-job learning to better understand buses.

“You need a good theoretical foundation but doing it just compounds the learning,” Wurzinger said. “Until you get to actually manipulate it you really can’t get a feel for it.”

Dale Boyenga and Duane Rasmussen, co-instructors of the Hennepin Tech program, said Metro Transit is especially unique among the more than 80 employers that partner with the school.

While the program teaches fundamentals common to all diesel equipment, Metro Transit’s buses can be more challenging because of all the different components involved. Computers are used on several different systems, which must work together for a bus to perform properly.

“There is probably more advanced technology on a bus than anything else we work on,” Boyenga said.

Hendrickson said he was struck by all of the different technologies in use on a bus and that the experience he gained during his internship has been critical in his new position.

“It was one of the best years of learning I ever had,” he said.

Bus Bus Maintenance Safety

More maintenance, more miles 

| Thursday, August 29, 2013 1:03:00 PM

Judging strictly by appearances, the 1984 Ford tow truck kept at the Martin J. Ruter Garage in Brooklyn Center may not seem particularly noteworthy.

But the truck has a distinct honor: it is the oldest vehicle in Metro Transit’s fleet. After nearly three decades in service, it has logged just 35,000 miles retrieving broken down buses or vehicles caught in winter storms.

The truck’s longevity is more than a piece of trivia, however. The extended life is a testament to how well Metro Transit’s buses perform on a daily basis.  

In 2012, Metro Transit buses collectively traveled an average of nearly 7,500 miles between calls for roadside service, peaking in October with an agency record of 8,293 miles between road calls. The “miles between maintenance” measurement is calculated by dividing the total number of miles traveled among all buses by the number of maintenance-related roadcalls.

Last year's performance marks an 89 percent improvement from a decade earlier. Such improvements don't just happen, though. A group of nearly 300 specially-trained mechanics work around the clock at Metro Transit’s five garages and the St. Paul Overhaul Base to keep buses in top condition.

Buses are regularly inspected to ensure all systems are functioning correctly and that any concerns that are identified are quickly addressed before a bus goes back on the road.

In addition to being vigilant, maintenance staff use operator feedback to better understand how vehicles are performing on the road and have built relationships with industry suppliers so that Metro Transit gets the best buses it can.

Better transmissions and other components have not only made buses more dependable and improved engine life, but improved fuel efficiency and overall comfort for customers. Metro Transit’s persistence on quality and reliability has also led to product improvements that have been incorporated into the bus builder’s product line – providing a better, more reliable product not just for Metro Transit customers but all transit users.

“There’s a continual drive to improve each year,” said Rob Milleson, Metro Transit’s director of bus maintenance. “We’re constantly monitoring and constantly learning.”

The combination of high-quality maintenance and procurement helps keep Metro Transit buses in service at least 12 years before they are put into service for the Minnesota State Fair or put up for public auction.

Most buses in Metro Transit’s fleet log an average of 410,000 miles before being replaced. By comparison, the average car lasts 11 years and 165,000 miles
Milleson said that performance record is particularly impressive considering all of the challenges – most notably Minnesota’s harsh winters – that buses face as they transport customers throughout the year.

The credit, he says, goes to those who spend their days making sure buses perform at their peak.

“While a combination of factors impact reliability and bus longevity it’s our front line employees that really make it all come together,” Milleson said. 

> New buses hit the streets

> Fact Book tells Metro Transit's story by the numbers

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